The bar cart is one of hottest trends in home décor right now — and for good reason. No longer an afterthought meant to be wheeled out of the background for guests, the bar cart is taking center stage as the key to a memorable party. From picking the most stylish cart, to stocking it with the chicest glassware and tools, to pouring the best classic cocktails (with recipes from some of Chicago’s top mixologists), here, we give you your party on a platter… er, cart.
1. Shop It
A great bar cart is one that appeals to the senses while getting the job done — just like the perfect cocktail. Here, four potent options.
Best in Brass
2. Style It
To help ensure your next at-home gathering goes off without a hitch, the Smithesters (see what we did there?) share their go-to tips for styling — and utilizing — the ultimate bar cart.
When in Doubt, Decant
While it may be tempting to showcase all the booze you’ve accumulated over the years, it’s best to be selective: either pour your spirits into pretty glass bottles, or keep design in mind as you’re shopping for liquor. Either way, “Remember that your offerings are on display — you want them to look nice,” says Maureen.
Accessorize, Accessorize, Accessorize
Just as important as the bottles themselves is how you choose to style them. “I like to place everything on a tray along with other bar-related pieces — anything from a martini shaker and glasses to a cocktail recipe book,” says Caitie. To go the extra mile for parties, add florals and candles. “It really gives the space a curated look,” she says.
It’s always thoughtful to keep your friends’ drink requests in mind, but if the thought of shaking up a custom cocktail for everyone at your party sounds stressful (uh, yeah!), focus on what you love first and foremost. In addition to beer and wine, Caitie and Maureen, for example, always have the fixings for dirty martinis and Moscow Mules on hand. (Interested? See Pour It, below.) “As long as you’re enthusiastic about what you’re serving, your guests will love it,” says Maureen.
3. Stock It
According to drink whiz Dave Thompson, bar manager at Cherry Circle Room and Game Room at the Chicago Athletic Association, you can’t call yourself a home ‘tender until you have the following tools alongside your booze. He breaks them down:
- Shaker: Don’t stop shaking until the outside of the shaker frosts up (usually about 10 seconds).
- Ice Bucket and Tongs: To absorb condensation, rest the bucket on a folded bar towel — this will also come in handy for any inevitable spills.
- Shot Glass: Keep a few of these on hand to hold garnishes like mint, olives, and cherries.
- Bottle Opener: Skip the fancy stuff and stick a classic bar blade in your back pocket, pro-style.
- Strainer: To keep the ice in the cocktail shaker for “up” drinks.
- Bar Spoon: Place ice in first, then slide the spoon down the side of the glass to avoid sending cubes flying across the room.
4. Pour It
Ready to get started? We asked some of the city’s top mixologists to spill their most popular libations.
Courtesy of Soho House & Co.
- 1 ounce lime
- 1.25 ounces ginger syrup
- 2 ounces 42 Below Vodka
Build in shaker tin and “whip” (shake with one ice cube). Pour over ice into mule mug and top with soda. Garnish with candied ginger.
Classic Dirty Martini
Courtesy of Julianna Arquilla
- 2.5 ounces Letherbee Gin
- .50 ounce olive brine
- .25 ounce Dolin Dry Vermouth
Chill a martini glass with ice. In a mixing glass, add gin, olive brine, and vermouth and stir until diluted and chilled. Garnish with one large olive.
My Favorite Godfather
Courtesy of Lov Carpenter, lead mixologist of Blue Plate Catering
- 1 ounce Disaronno
- 1 ounce Dewar’s Scotch Whisky
- 1 ounce CH Amaro
- 3 dashes chocolate bitters
Stir ingredients with ice, strain into coupe glass, and garnish with expressed orange swath.
Courtesy of Ryan Feigh at Tuco and Blondie
- 1.5 ounces Piedra Azul Tequila
- 1 ounce Peche de Vigne
- .5 ounce Ancho Reyes ancho chili liqueur
- .5 ounce Fresno chili simple syrup
Add the ingredients above to a shaker with ice and shake thoroughly (at least 10 shakes), pour over ice in a highball glass with a Tajin (chili lime spice) rim, and top with ginger beer. Garnish with a lime wheel.
So Why the Bar Cart?
We got the scoop on why bar carts have become the furniture pièce de résistance from some women who definitely know their stuff. It shouldn’t come as a big surprise that the family behind Walter E. Smithe knows a thing or two about home décor, but you may not know that they throw a killer party. Their secret? It all comes down to that single piece of — you guessed it — furniture: the bar cart.
After pursuing their own careers post-college, all four fourth-generation Smithe daughters came back “home” to the family custom furniture business, which has been bringing families together — including their own — for more than 75 years. Now the sisters are helping to spearhead the company’s operations: Colleen and Megan are the directors of advertising and marketing, respectively; Caitie works as a designer in the Oakbrook showroom; and Maureen is a buyer.
But when they’re not working, chances are they’re busy prepping for their next big bash. “So much of what we do at the store revolves around creating spaces for people to entertain in, so it comes naturally to us,” says Maureen. “New homes often don’t have traditional dining rooms anymore because everyone wants a big communal space where the whole crowd can gather over cocktails — and that’s very much our style, too.”
“We see clients using [bar carts] as permanent fixtures in their rooms, from end tables to consoles,” says Caitie. “If you have an empty spot, it’s a really great way to fill the space in an interesting way.” Don’t worry if you’re not a big drinker — you can style it as you would a side table (a pretty lamp, a book or two, a potted plant), then clear it off to use as a bar when friends come over.
We asked the Smithe sisters to dish on what it’s like to work together, their plans for the brand — and that time they were reality TV stars.
Maureen, Colleen, Caitie, and Meghan (above, from left) embarked on different career paths post-college, but it was their respective visions for the company’s future that led each of them back to the family business.”Working together as sisters and as a family is wonderful,” says Maureen. “We understand each other better than just about anyone on the planet and because of that, we can be extra productive and also have fun. We are a fantastic team!”
Last summer, the Smithes partnered with renowned interior designer Jeff Lewis, the star of Bravo’s hit reality show “Flipping Out.” As you may have seen on the show (we’re talking to you, Bravo junkies!), Lewis curated 10 different room vignettes to be showcased at Walter E. Smithe’s 11 showrooms. “The episode centered on our partnership, and we were all on it,” says Caitie. “It was such an interesting and exciting experience, and we loved working with Jeff and his amazing team.
More from Make It Better:
- Gorgeous Fireplaces You’ll Want to Cozy Up to This Winter
- Holiday Tablescapes: 4 Table Decoration Ideas From Local Pros
- Windows and Doors: Easy Ways to Instantly Improve Your Home’s Look and Energy Efficiency
Nicole Schnitzler is a freelance writer who covers food, drink, travel and lifestyle. When she is not planning her next adventure, she can be found commuting between bakeries, yoga classes, live music shows, and libraries in her hometown of Chicago. She is most comfortable with a pen in one hand and a fork in the other. Nicole is also the founder of Doors Open Dishes, an initiative committed to keeping the doors open to the group homes and workshops of individuals with special needs by partnering with chefs and restaurants across the city. Follow her on Twitter (@Write_To_Eat) or on Instagram (@WriteToEat).